Mardy Fish, America's success story of the summer, and Beatrice Capra, an 18-year-old who had never played a match at tour level before this week, were doing their best here yesterday to put some flutter back into the Stars and Stripes flying high over the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
Twenty-fours after Andy Roddick, the perennial American hope in the men's singles, had made a bad- tempered exit from the US Open, Fish and Capra provided some hope for the home fans. Fish, maintaining the form that has brought him two titles in recent weeks, booked his place in the third round with a 7-5, 6-0, 6-2 victory over Pablo Cuevas, while Capra bridged a 351-place gap in the world rankings to beat Aravane Rezai, the No 18 seed, 7-5, 2-6, 6-3.
Fish, who now plays the veteran Frenchman Arnaud Clément, has not looked back since losing more than two stone over the winter. The world No 21, a winner in Atlanta and Newport and runner-up at Queen's Club and Cincinnati this summer, has been the third most successful player during the north American hard-court season behind Andy Murray and Roger Federer.
"I feel like I've been the underdog in most matches in my career but I want to be the favourite and winning a lot," Fish said after his emphatic victory over Cuevas. "I've never had myself in a Grand Slam as a guy that people talk about to really do well there. I think my summer has changed that."
Fish, who is through to the third round for only the third time in 11 visits to Flushing Meadows, sympathised with Roddick, his friend and former schoolmate. The world No 9 suffered the rare experience of being outgunned as Janko Tipsarevic, a 26-year-old Serb, beat him with a barrage of 66 winners. The world No 44 also struck 16 aces and won 81 per cent of the points when his first serve landed in court.
John McEnroe believes Roddick has never recovered from the disappointment of losing to Federer in last year's epic Wimbledon final, but a more prosaic reason for the 2003 US Open champion's indifferent form could be the glandular fever that struck him down earlier in the summer.
His frustrations were evident in his boorish rant against officials after being foot-faulted at 5-2 down in the third set during his 3-6, 7-5, 6-3, 7-6 defeat to Tipsarevic. He lambasted the lineswoman for telling him his right foot rather than his left had touched the line. "Not once in my entire career has my right foot gone ahead of my left foot," Roddick told her. The American then directed his ire at the umpire. "Why don't you get some umpires that know what they're doing?" he said. "What is this, call 1-800-rent-a-ref?"
Roddick's defeat had followed the departure of another American favourite, Melanie Oudin, the 18-year-old from Georgia who beat four Russians last year en route to the quarter-finals. Oudin, who was beaten 6-2, 7-5 by Ukraine's Alona Bondarenko, has now failed to go beyond the second round of her last 12 tournaments, though at No 43 in the world she was still the second highest-ranked American in the women's field behind Venus Williams.
Capra, who watched "every second" of Oudin's matches last year, secured her place here by winning an eight-woman American play-off for a wild card. She has 31 Americans ahead of her in the world rankings and has recently been playing on the International Tennis Federation circuit in tournaments with total prize-money of $25,000 (about £16,200).
Victory over Rezai, who has beaten Venus Williams, Caroline Wozniacki and Jelena Jankovic this year, earned Capra a third-round meeting with the winner of last night's match between Maria Sharapova and Iveta Benesova. Oudin beat Sharapova at the same stage last year, but Capra insisted: "I don't even want to think about that right now."
Nikolay Davydenko, the world No 6, became the highest seed to fall so far when he was beaten 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 by Richard Gasquet. Davydenko, who has been struggling to recover from a wrist injury, lost in just an hour and 53 minutes. The world No 13, Marin Cilic, who beat Murray here last year before losing to Juan Martin del Potro in the quarter-finals, lost 5-7, 7-6, 3-6, 7-6, 6-1 to Japan's Kei Nishikori.